The processes that create fossil fuels are complex, and take place over extremely long periods of time.
The oil and gas we use today began as plants and animals living millions of years ago. When the living things died, layers of sediment buried their bodies over millions of years, pushing large quantities of the organic material deeper into the Earth. At deeper depths, over thousands and thousands of more years, greater levels of heat and pressure transformed the organic materials into fossil fuels. That's how fossil fuels which account for 85 percent of the world's energy use were formed. If we use up the total quantity of extractable fossil fuels that are still in the ground something that could happen in the next 100 years, we would have to wait millions of years for new deposits to form.
Enter synthetic fossil fuels, which many scientists are working to develop.
But are synthetic fossil fuels really a good choice for future energy capacity? We know that in the last 100 years carbon dioxide levels have risen from around 280 ppm to over 399 ppm, while global temperatures have risen by 0.8°C. There is a scientific consensus that human activity is responsible for most or all of this rise.
Current estimates suggest that climate change is very likely to become dangerous to human civilization above 550 ppm but less likely below 450 ppm. Continuing to burn synthetic fossil fuels will continue to raise the level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, potentially triggering dangerous or catastrophic climate change. Unless we can find a way to otherwise reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, synthetic fossil fuels would seem to be a dangerous choice.
One option is to create fuels that work similarly to fossil fuels but that when burned don't emit any carbon dioxide.
Scientists are working on a cheap hydrogen-based synthetic gasoline that costs $1.50 a gallon to manufacture, doesn't emit carbon dioxide, and can be used in existing vehicles without engines modifications.
But even if zero-carbon fuels don't reach the marketplace, the very production of synthetic fossil fuels may itself be a way to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Although stripping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere cannot address other climate problems like ocean acidification or methane emissions, and although the cost remains high, the technology already exists to regulate the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
This suggests that artificial fossil fuels may have a strong future, especially if their production reduces, rather than increases, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
Horizontal Drilling: A horizontal well is drilled deep down vertically at first, but then changes direction (at what is called the kick-off point) before it encounters the reservoir (at the entry point) and extends horizontally through it. But the advantages of horizontal drilling go beyond increasing well productivity. It also allows wells to be dug safely under environmentally sensitive and protected land.
Although the first horizontal well was drilled in 1929, they were expensive, and the development of hydraulic fracturing soon improved the productivity of vertical wells.
MWD allows operators to receive real-time information on the status of drilling, as well as the ability to steer the well in other directions. It relates information such as gamma rays, temperature, and pressure, as well as the density and magnetic resonance of the rock formations. This serves a myriad of functions. It helps operators drill more efficiently while preventing blowouts and tool failures. It also helps operators show that they’re not drilling into unauthorized areas.
One of the most important innovations in oil exploration was 3-D seismic imaging. This relies on the idea that sound bounces off and travels through different materials in slightly different ways. In this process, an energy source such as a vibrator truck sends sound waves deep into the earth. Special devices called geophones are positioned on the surface, which receives the sounds that bounce back up and send the information to recorder trucks.
To help stimulate the well and drive out the trapped oil, drillers employ hydraulic fracturing. In this process, they inject water combined with chemicals into the well with enough pressure to create fractures in the rock formations — fractures that can extend hundreds of feet long. To keep the fractures from closing again, drillers send down a proppant, which is a mixture of fluids, sand and pellets. These fractures allow oil to flow more freely from the rock.
Offshore Drilling and ROV’s:
One of the technologies that spurred the development of offshore drilling was remotely operated vehicles, or ROV’s, which the military was already using to retrieve lost equipment underwater. Because diving in deep water is dangerous, the oil industry adapted ROV’s for drilling in the 1970s.
Controlled from the rig above the water’s surface, an ROV is a robotic device that allows operators to see underwater. Some types allow the operator to make an ROV’s robotic arms perform different functions, such as subsea tie-ins and deep water installations, as deep as 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).
The industry’s advances in oil and gas technology is a direct result of the hard times that came with falling oil prices. Times being tougher meant firms had to look at ways to increase their operational efficiency. Companies can use robots and automation to cut down on the waste that comes with downtime on a rig. Downtime is an inevitable reality robotics and other oil and gas technology can ease this problem considerably. There was also a realization that many of the most dangerous jobs in the industry could be filled by robots so workers were not put at risk of injury.
Some of the ways robotics and automation are used in oil and gas include:
Robotic vehicles are being used offshore to inspect and make minor subsea repairs
Drones are being used to inspect pipelines
Automation is being used in midstream infrastructure and rigs
The Iron Roughneck is a robot that automates the repetitive and dangerous task of connecting drill pipes.
Remotely operated aerial drones can survey the area
Whole unmanned platforms that use only robotics and automation
Drilling at great depths in the search for new supplies of oil or gas is a highly technical and difficult task. The drill must be able to keep operating despite huge amounts of pressure, temperature and debris as the well gets deeper. An essential part of the drilling process is the use of drilling fluid, or as our engineers call it, ‘mud’. This is pumped down the drill pipe to keep the drill bit cool. The fluid also brings drilled cuttings back to the surface, where the cuttings are removed for examination and then safe disposal. The fluid is then recycled and reused – all with no harm to the environment
Many of the biggest energy reserves lie in so-called High-Pressure/High-Temperature (HP/HT) reservoirs. Drilling these reservoirs is extremely challenging with reservoir pressures up to 1,100 bar and temperatures beyond 200°C. Once discovered and put into production, the pressure in the reservoir reduces as gas is removed and carried to the surface. This pressure reduction in the reservoir creates a situation where the reservoir is at a pressure much lower than that of the rock formation immediately above it. The drilling mud must be kept at a density heavy enough to hold back the formation fluids but not be too heavy to fracture and damage the now depleted reservoir. Managing this balancing act successfully without fracturing the reservoir is critical to be able to drill wells on aging HP/HT reservoirs.
In an industry where innovation is now the key to sustainability. One of the biggest challenges for oil and gas companies when achieving this degree of innovation on an industry-wide scale is finding the best way to integrate ground-breaking, new technologies.
Larger companies must refocus much of their investment on the smaller, more ambitious technology developers to ensure revolutionary solutions enter the oil and gas market faster and enable them to prepare their existing solutions for success within a new era of innovation.
One particular concept we have seen emerge across the oil and gas industry within the last decade is the digital oilfield, which refers to the real-time automation of operations through a combination of business process management systems and complex information technology, to ensure the simple management and tracking of the data. This has presented oil and gas companies with one way to streamline systems and achieve technology innovation, however a greater investment in startups could see many other opportunities come to fruition. This means we must have a technology vision for the industry and a future where remote operations and automation are the norm.
The oil and gas industry could generate an extra $1 billion in revenues if it were to develop new technologies in the field of offshore infrastructure inspection, a new report has found.
The study, which Oil & Gas UK commissioned from Lockheed Martin and was titled The Asset Integrity Theme Landscaping Study, found that companies’ efforts to check installations for corrosion and inspect vessels were being held back by gaps in technology.
Many of the current techniques are inefficient and unnecessarily costly. Vessel inspection is usually done manually, according to the report’s authors, and can be hazardous and time consuming, as an engineer has to work in confined spaces. Corrosion is also difficult to trace because surfaces on oil and gas installation are covered with insulation which is expensive and time consuming to remove.
The report, which was ordered on behalf of the UK’s Technology Leadership board
mentioned a number of technologies which could help, but warned that there was not currently one single solution, and oil and gas companies would likely have to combine several different options to get the desired results.
One corrosion detection technology mentioned was the pulsed eddy current technique, which involves driving an electromagnetic field through the outer insulation, allowing sensors to detect variation in the field that are caused by changes in the material, such as corrosion.
The report also recommended that oil and gas operators use a combination of remotely-operated vehicles and sensors to make vessel inspection more efficient.